Stories of the soul by Fiza Ahmed


As an anthropologist with a deep love for ethnographic writing, I was filled with anticipation and excitement when I attended the Summerschool course “Amsterdam Stories : Hands-on Anthropology and Ethnographic Storytelling”. The course turned out to be much more than I could have dream.

On a sunny Monday morning, the classroom was filled with a diverse group of students from all over the world, from Australia to China to Brazil and everything in between. Even though our ages, academic backgrounds, and cultural backgrounds differed, a sense of community started to build quickly. Within the first few hours, we knew we had entered a safe and warm space. The inkling emerged that this course was going to be much more than just another course.

Every day was full of marvelous stories. We gained insights from different ethnographers telling stories about their research experience, their challenges and the  pleasant and unpleasant surprises they encountered. Yet, their ethnographic research was more than just that. The ethnographers told us how they made sense of not only what they observed and experienced, but also of themselves. Ethnographic research transformed their lives. At the end of each presentation the main teacher, Younes Saramifar, would jump up like a deus ex machina, and with elegant gestures and eloquent words he would lead a discussion that left us in awe, as our brain and senses went in overdrive. We started to realize that our lives too, would be transformed forever.

            Not only did we listen to stories, we also did exercises to open up all of our senses widely. Even though this was out of our comfort zone, it felt safe to go with the flow of things, and set ourselves free. There was so much more to see, hear, and feel than we had imagined thus far.

At the end of the first week, it was time to go into the field ourselves. We entered the magical world of an antique store in the raw edges of Amsterdam, filled with a myriad of objects, each with a past and a story to tell. Our challenge was to find the story, and even more so, to find the relation we had with the object. As we opened our senses, and entered into a conversation with the objects, they spoke to us, and together, the object and the researcher co-created the story. In the second week we shared our stories with our peers, reflected upon them, shaped and reshaped them until we got to the essence of what we had to tell, and give the audience a feeling of “being there”. On the final day, each one of us bared our soul as we presented our stories in front of the group. It is impossible to truly describe what that felt like. The word “cathartic” come to mind.

The course was intense. There was no room for leaning back. We were lured into participation, amazement and a constant state of captivation. Younes was much more than a teacher. He was like a Persian mystic inspiring us to use all of our senses and developing a heightened awareness to all that surrounds us. After participating in this course, nothing will ever be the same again for us. We cannot but live anthropologically, observe with all our senses, and share our stories for the rest of our lives like a true Scheherazade.